Common Sea Fans (<em>Gorgonia ventilina</em>) are one of several species of sea fans found in southeast Florida. Sea fans are also classified as soft corals or gorgonians.

Common Sea Fans (Gorgonia ventilina) are one of several species of sea fans found in southeast Florida. Sea fans are also classified as soft corals or gorgonians.

Photo: Chantal Collier

Juvenile bluehead wrasses swim along the reef in Palm Beach.

Juvenile bluehead wrasses swim along the reef in Palm Beach.

Photo: Joe Marino

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Southeast Florida Reef News

Cold Water Event Coral Surveys Conducted

By Jamie Monty
Fishing, Diving & Other Uses Project Coordinator

Jamie Monty and Joanna Walczak using the FRRP Cold Water DRM protocol to monitor coral reefs in Miami-Dade County. Photo: Christopher Boykin, FDEP CRCP
Jamie Monty and Joanna Walczak using the FRRP Cold Water DRM protocol to monitor coral reefs in Miami-Dade County. Photo: Christopher Boykin, FDEP CRCP
In the last edition of Southeast Florida Reef News (September – December 2009), you may have read about Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) staff participating in a Florida Reef Tract-wide annual bleaching monitoring program called the Florida Reef Resilience Program’s (FRRP) Coral Bleaching Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM). As previously mentioned, the FRRP Coral Bleaching DRM not only provides the only Florida Reef Tract-wide dataset on annual bleaching, it also serves as a model marine event response protocol, and FRRP partner agencies, organizations, and academic institutions have been planning to adapt the Coral Bleaching DRM to respond to other disturbances. Well, early this year the first opportunity to do so presented itself. During January and February of 2010, FDEP CRCP staff participated in data collection for the FRRP Cold Water DRM.

In January 2010, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) received reports of coral bleaching and mortality in the Florida Keys following a cold water event associated with several cold snaps in early to mid-January, prompting activation of the network of FRRP DRM partners. In late January, the FRRP dive teams resurveyed sites that had been monitored during summer 2009 in order to ascertain what impact the cold water had on Florida’s coral reefs.

Data are still being analyzed, but preliminary results indicate that hard and soft corals and sponges on the reefs off mainland southeast Florida appear normal for this region and time of year, indicating that the recent cold snaps did not severely affect southeast Florida’s reefs. However, inshore and mid-channel reefs in the Florida Keys region were impacted by the cold water event, which resulted in extensive coral mortality. Differences in the effects of the cold water event on coral reefs throughout the Florida Reef Tract indicate confounding factors, such as differences in water temperature, reef depth, etc. These factors are being investigated in conjunction with the analyses of the coral reef monitoring data.

The FRRP is a collaborative partnership initiated in 2004 through discussions involving the State of Florida, TNC, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). The FRRP is designed to improve the understanding of reef health throughout the Florida Reef Tract, from the Dry Tortugas to the reefs off Martin County, and to identify factors that influence the long-term resilience of this marine ecosystem. Resilience is the ability of systems to absorb disturbances, to resist phase shifts and to regenerate and reorganize in order to maintain key functions and processes in a time span relevant to resource use and management activities. One way that reef managers gauge coral reef resilience is by monitoring the effects of disturbances to coral reefs. Since 2005, marine scientists from more than a dozen agencies, organizations and academic institutions throughout the 5 counties adjacent to the Florida Reef Tract have participated in the FRRP Coral Bleaching DRM to monitor the effects of coral bleaching.

FRRP partners will continue to adapt the Coral Bleaching DRM as needed to document and monitor the effects of other events that influence coral reef resilience, such as the January cold water event. However, the first step in this process often involves you - FRRP partners rely on the marine stakeholder community to report these episodic marine events.

If you see something unusual on the reef, please report it so staff can investigate:
- In southeast Florida, contact the Southeast Florida Marine Event Response Program (SEMERP) at 866-770-SEFL(7335)
- In the Florida Keys, contact the Marine Ecosystem Event Response and Assessment (MEERA) at www.mote.org/MEERA/

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